When Carly Barrett started having stomach problems all of a sudden at the age of 24, colon cancer was not on her mind.
No one in her family had the disease, and she didn’t have any other health problems.
A major illness didn’t seem likely for a young teacher who was just starting out in her career, traveling with friends, and having fun with her soon-to-be-husband.
“Shocked to the core”
Barrett was told she had cancer in June 2019, before she went to that GI appointment and as her symptoms got worse and worse.
She was flying from Spain to the U.S. after a vacation in Europe when she felt “indescribable pain” in her stomach. The flight attendants moved a seat so she could lie down, and when she got home, she was taken to the emergency room.
A CT scan and a biopsy showed that the colon cancer was in stage 3.
“You’re in shock,” I said, and my next thought was, “OK, what should I do next?” What kinds of treatment do I have?” She can remember thinking.
Immunotherapy brings down the size of cancer
Lastly, a doctor at Vanderbilt University asked Barrett to join a clinical trial for the immunotherapy drug atezolizumab, also known as Tecentriq. She did so in February 2020. She was able to get the treatment because a marker on her tumor called PD-L1 showed that it was likely to respond to the treatment.
Barrett’s cancer finally got smaller because of this. She says that she is no longer sick and is in a state of remission. She shared her story on TikTok to show other people with colon cancer that there are happy endings.
She says that doctors have never given her “any kind of expiration date.” They hope that the cancer will never come back, but they don’t know what will happen in the long run. She gets a scan every four months to check for a return of the cancer.
In April 2022, Barrett got married. After a month, she had an ostomy reversal surgery, and she no longer needs to carry an ostomy bag.
Barrett says, “Physically, I can do everything I normally do.”
“I’m still trying to get my mind back to normal, but I don’t think I will ever be able to. I’m getting used to this new way of life.”